Lawsuit alleges SCI Pittsburgh guards sexually abused inmates

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A civil lawsuit filed today by an unnamed former inmate of the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh outlines in graphic detail allegations of within-the-walls sexual abuse that have previously remained below the surface even as the lock-up has made personnel moves.

In a complaint by attorneys Steven M. Barth and D. Aaron Rihn, an inmate identified only as John Doe accused guards of systematic abuse, and their bosses of ignoring it.

The inmate was at SCI Pittsburgh from March 2009 through July 2010, according the complaint, for a parole violation.

While there, he saw officers "physically and sexually abuse inmates ... order inmates to defecate and urinate into inmate's food [and] place defecation and other bodily fluids into inmate's food," among other practices.

The inmate "was ordered to allow other inmates to fondle his genitalia while Corrections Officers watched," the complaint said. "Failure of any inmate to comply with this conduct ... resulted in further abuse and intimidation by officers on duty."

The complaint also laid out a "conspiracy to sexually abuse, physically abuse and mentally abuse inmates who were homosexual ... transgender ... [or] who were convicted of sexual crimes."

In January 2010, according to the complaint, the inmate known as John Doe was approached by Corrections Officer Harry Nicoletti Jr. He was given three choices, it said: be anally raped, perform oral sex, or touch the officer's genitals. He was threatened with "physical abuse" and the filing of "fraudulent misconducts" if he "did not chose [sic] how he was to be sexually assaulted that day," it said. So he chose the third option.

Other, similar assaults occured in March and April 2010, the complaint said. In one instance Mr. Nicoletti gave the inmate drugs which he was not prescribed in payment, it said.

"There is no truth to any of this whatsoever," said Mr. Nicoletti. "It makes me sick to my stomach that someone can make accusations likt that. It's totally false, and there's eight of us out on the street with no pay, no benefits.

"There's eight of us, and none of us have received any due process."

The attacks constitute assault and battery, the complaint said.

Another former SCI Pittsburgh inmate, Rodger E. Williams, filed a pro se complaint two months ago, making a slew of complaints about the treatment of transgender inmates like himself at both the Woods Run prison and SCI Greene. Among them: that Mr. Nicoletti raped him, and "doled [him] out to other corrections officers and a [prison] inmate into forcibly committing sexual acts."

In a recent addendum to the complaint Mr. Williams, 32, wrote that he suffered "oral and anal rape" conducted by state corrections officers.

Mr. Williams' accusations were first reported by the Pittsburgh City Paper.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton declined comment.

In April, news broke that eight guards, including Mr. Nicoletti, had been suspended. Ms. McNaughton would not comment on their status, and leaders of their union could not be reached.

In May, four top SCI Pittsburgh officials were replaced. Ms. McNaughton said they are no longer employed by the department.

They were superintendent Melvin Lockett, superintendent for facility management Martin Kovacs, deputy superintendent for centralized services Janice Niemiec and major of the guard John Wiser. All are named defendants in the lawsuit filed by the inmate called John Doe.

A spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. would not comment on reports that a grand jury is reviewing the accusations.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542


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